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Adventuring in the Alps on a Budget

We love to adventure, and the pictures we post of our adventures on social media give our friends the impression that we live a glamorous life as travelers with a bottomless bear canister full of disposable income. But the truth is, as outdoor adventurers, we are typically pretty good at traveling on a budget. We probably spend more nights in a tent than in a hotel, and our hobby costs less than most of our friends’ hobbies (if we ignore our gear purchases, of course).

While we may be masters at budget adventuring on our home turf, our ability to keep our budget down dwindles when we travel internationally. Lack of familiarity with the laws, and inability to find the information we need in English, are factors that drive up the cost of our international adventures. Add to that the fact that many guiding companies have mastered their Google rankings, and every time we go searching for information, we instead are flooded with search results of guiding companies who can make it just so much easier for us, if we just pay a little bit more. This exact problem is why Alpenventures UNGUIDED exists.

The truth is, that although back-country camping is illegal in most of the Alps, there are still a lot of things that can be done to keep the costs of adventuring in the Alps very manageable.

Here are Alpenventures UNGUIDED’s top 5 tips for adventuring in the Alps on a budget:

Campground with tent of touring cyclists

5. Camp on Bike Tours. Bicycle touring in Europe is incredible and is something that should be on the top of every adventurers list, even if you don’t regularly cycle at home. This is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive way to experience Europe. Incredible bicycle routes and bike-friendly public transportation makes a one-way trip across the Alps very doable. Along a bike tour, you travel through one or two big cities, quaint villages, through nature, as well as past famous churches, monasteries, and castles. You get culture, nature, and physical exertion all in one. Staying in hotel rooms on a bike tour, means less pack weight on your bike. But, staying in campgrounds will lead to great savings – especially if you book campgrounds with an available kitchen for guests to use.

4. Bring your own food to the mountain huts. This is almost painful for me to recommend since I LOVE eating at the mountain huts. Experiencing the food is part of traveling for me. However, food and drinks at the huts make up more than 50% of the total overnight cost. Bringing your own food, just as you would on a backpacking tour in the wildernesses of North America, will cut your overnight cost at huts in most countries down to between 20 and 25€. A good balance on multi-day hut tours might be to eat your own food the first few nights, and then splurge on hut food and drinks the last couple of nights. Please remember to be polite, and to eat your food away from the hut.

Note: if you have just decided that you love food too much for this to be a viable option for you, then maybe you should check out our Culinary Delight Hut Hiking Tour in Austria.

Mountain scenery in Switzerland

3. Avoid Switzerland. Let me start by saying that Switzerland is everything you expect it to be – breathtaking, charming, and incredibly orderly. The word-famous chocolate and cheese really do taste that much better. I will never say that Switzerland is not worth a visit – I love it there. But, every adventurer needs to know that Switzerland is much more expensive than the other countries in the Alps. Our recommendation – go to Austria instead. Austria also has breathtaking mountains, charm, and orderliness. Most importantly, it is less touristy and much less expensive than Switzerland.

2. Travel off-season. This is your most drastic savings opportunity. While round-trip flights from the U.S. and Canada to the Alps often cost between 1,200 USD and 1,500 USD during the summer, savvy airfare-deal pursuers (check out our tips online) can find round-trip flights below 400 USD in the off-season. Even during Spring Break this year, tickets could be found for less than 500 USD. Now, traveling off-season is not for everybody, as conditions and weather are not fully predictable. If you are committed to a specific route or summit, or don’t have a lot of experience with adverse conditions, summer may be the best option for you. For those traveling in the off-season, we recommend renting a modern version of the VW camping bus (more about that later), to provide the level of flexibility needed to take advantage the best conditions. Great off-season activities include hiking, summiting (if you are flexible about the altitude of the summits), bike touring, and low-altitude via ferratas. Of course, we are here to give you all of our best off-season tour tips.

Female sitting inside a camper van

1. Rent a VW (or Mercedes) Camping Bus. Remember the VW Bus from the 60s and 70s? It still lives in Europe, and is the adventure vehicle of choice in the Alps. With new models available, the camping bus provides the luxury of having your kitchen, bedroom, and living room waiting for you at every trailhead. Since “overnighting” in a vehicle parked on the side of a road somewhere is much more accepted than backcountry camping, it provides ultimate flexibility, as you can often decide where you are sleeping, well, just before you go to sleep. And while one would expect to pay a lot for such luxury and flexibility, when you calculate in the money you save on hotels, restaurants, and a rental car or other transportation – this turns out to be a bargain. For maximum comfort, we recommend 2 adults per camping bus, however, they can handle up to four (it’s tight, but I have done it and will continue to do it), and that makes this option even more budget-friendly. Combine this with off-season flight prices, and you can easily get a 7-day adventure below 1,000 USD per person. And one last thing, they don’t have a bathroom on board. These are best for those of us who gladly take care of our business in the woods.

Four level stone hut with red shutters in the Alps in summer

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